Emily A. Ludwig, PsyD
One of the most useful tools I employ when helping patients is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. It uses Cognition (thinking) to affect change in Behavior (actions) and, with practice, can become a truly life-changing tool for patients who are struggling with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, etc. CBT has been proven to be clinically effective by numerous research studies and gives patients the resources to help themselves feel and function better.
As a mental health professional, I understand that many people who suffer from emotional challenges have faulty or distorted ways of thinking about themselves, others and the world around them. This distorted “view” may cause the person to make decisions or take actions that can be detrimental to themselves or others. As this becomes a pattern in a person’s life, a cascade effect occurs and these faulty thinking patterns become reinforced, even though they may be harmful. CBT is used to disrupt these destructive patterns and replace them with more helpful ways of thinking about and relating to those around us, and to the commonplace issues we all face in our lives every day.
Helping patients to identify and understand these unhelpful thinking patterns is the first task we face together in therapy. No two patients are alike, so there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. After we do our investigative work, I tailor a therapy plan specific to their lifestyle, work and activity level. Often, this involves working with the patient to understand and accept the reality of their situation in life, while not minimizing or magnifying their experience. Then we undertake the learning of helpful coping strategies to address the issues and to reshape the patient’s reactions to normal life or problems when they arise.
I also use various teaching tools to assist my patients with their understanding of these concepts. I ask them to face their fears, and coach them on how to do so. We can role play different scenarios so that they feel more prepared and confident. I also ask them to employ relaxation tools and techniques, such as mindfulness meditation and controlled breathing to bring them into focus when they feel scattered and old patterns threaten to emerge. I also encourage my patients to exercise, eat healthfully and to get plenty of rest for help in healing.
The successful application of CBT also involves some homework and practice on the part of the patient. I encourage them to put into use what they learn in therapy sessions with me by giving them reading and exercises to do at home and at work. It has been proven that when the concepts taught in CBT are used regularly and practiced often, tremendous positive changes can be realized by the patient. The patient soon understands that they have great control over how their lives can change for the better, or not, based on the effort that they themselves choose to put forth working the concepts learned in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.